The trend of toxic positivity has been around for ages, and it just won't seem to go away. Issue is, it doesn't just damage us, it damages others too. And it disproportionally affects those facing hardship or discrimination of some kind.

I've been seeing and hearing it a lot recently. For example, there have been quite a few posts on LinkedIn perpetuating damaging themes of toxic positivity, liked by hundreds and possibly seen by tens of thousands of people.

I'm not a psychologist, nor an expert of any kind – but I wanted to share my thoughts on some of the things I'm seeing online.

What is toxic positivity?

It's basically excessive, overgeneralised positivity that tries to isolate and magnify the "ups" of authentic, everyday human emotions, and suppress or just plain slam the door shut on the "downs".

By artificially creating and magnifying positive feelings and thoughts, we cover up, push back and repress anything that doesn't fit into the "good vibes only" philosophy.

And in doing so, we're denying that normal, fluctuating human experiences, with their highs and lows, are valid.

Looking deeper

When we exemplify toxic positivity, we're not usually intending to do harm. Tabitha Kirkland, a psychologist and associate teaching professor at the University of Washington’s Department of Psychology, explains that it can often happen in situations when we want to help but don’t know what to say.

It can also be a learned habit, even a crutch, that comes from feeling uncomfortable with negative emotions and tries to create the illusion of a safe space that can be projected onto others. Unfortunately, it has the opposite effect.

Toxic positivity is exemplified by phrases like "Stay positive!" or "Don't worry, be happy!" When we do this, we're basically hiding or masking our real feelings – or the feelings of others. This can lead to feeling guilt or shame for failing to feel positive emotions, and also has the effect of minimising and dismissing valid human emotions.

This is common in spiritual circles – the ideas that by focussing on bad things, they'll get worse. This approach encouarages people "not to give in" to the negative feelings. It's called spiritual bypassing, and it isn't healthy.

It's a shallow approach to experiencing the flow of everyday life.

Perpetuating inequality

Unfortunately, toxic positivity gets more insidious. Because it erases anything other than shallow positivity, it also erases difficult conversations. Like those about racial injustice, transphobia or ableism.

A fight for social justice is often powered by discomfort and anger. If everybody was being positive all the time, nobody would be trying to make change.

"Stop spreading negativity"? "I try to see the good in everyone"? It's easy to see why phrases like this shut down key conversations about inequality and discrimination. Yep, it's fine and good to focus on the good in us, but how are we going to, for example, examine our biases or our deeply held beliefs that may be harmful if we aren't willing to acknowledge them in the first place?

Anti-racism, for example, requires us to get uncomfortable. It requires us to listen, and the things we hear will be hard to hear. The conclusions we reach about ourselves and our behaviours will be tough to process.

The spiritual bypassing aspect of toxic positivity asks us not to give in to "the victim" – that's all nice and good, but white people aren't in a constant, draining battle against systemic racism. Cisgender folks don't have to face a world that questions the validity of their existence on a daily basis. It's not about positivity. It's about challenging, radical social change.

When we suggest it's better to try and be positive in the face of discrimination and injustice, we're forming part of the problem.


When we recognise toxic positivity in ourselves, we can practice intervening and allowing ourselves to pursue balance, and feel more comfortable sitting with negative emotions. That includes when we're around others – if somebody's sharing something, we don't need to have the answers or a fix – often it is helpful just to validate what they are feeling.

Sometimes we'll be faced with toxic positivity from others, too. We can stall toxic positivity by clarifying what we're looking for from the conversation, or being open about how there needs to be space for other feelings too. It's okay for us to set boundaries that help us feel secure.